March is National Caffeine Awareness Month. So it’s a good time to ask questions about coffee, the usual caffeinated drink of choice among the over 65 set.
You may have heard that coffee causes jitters and a fast heartbeat. You may also know, from experience, how bad some people need that first morning cup of joe.
So, is it cool that your elderly mother or father starts the day with a strong cuppa? The short answer is yes. One or two cups of coffee, or other caffeinated drink, a day may have good benefits for seniors.
Coffee and the Brain
It’s well known that a cup of full-on caffeinated coffee puts a little spring in the step and a jolt of awareness in the brain. And no one needs that pick me up more than people in their seventies, eighties, and beyond.
But coffee may have more than just a short-term positive effect. One study shows that people over seventy who drink coffee do better on tests of brain function. Various other studies suggest that coffee consumption over the long haul can decrease the risk of developing dementia.
How, exactly, does coffee trick us into wakefulness and focus? There’s a chemical in the brain called adenosine. The job of adenosine is to keep us calm. Maybe too calm, especially in the morning.
Caffeine blocks adenosine, leaving the brain open to firing more quickly and excitedly. That’s why we get a wee buzz of energy and mental acuteness after a jolt of caffeine.
The Cons of Caffeine
Like so many things, caffeine works best in low to moderate doses. High consumption of caffeine can pull calcium out of the system of an older person. And seniors need their calcium to keep up bone health.
Calcium is one of the first lines of defense against bone thinning, called osteoporosis. And thinner bones break more easily.
There is a weak link between caffeine consumption and increased risk for bone fractures, but most scientists say that the connection isn’t strong enough to warrant caffeine withdrawal. Seniors can also offset the calcium loss of caffeine by putting some splashes of milk in their coffee or tea.
Coffee can also raise blood pressure. Although this tends to be a short-term effect, it could be damaging to someone who drinks excessive amounts of coffee throughout the day. Coffee drunk late in the afternoon can also interfere with sleep.
Your home care aide can let you know whether your parent’s coffee or tea consumption is normal or excessive, whether it improves mental alertness or keeps your parent from sleeping. Home care professionals can also advise you and your senior on other aspects of healthy living, from diet to exercise.
In conclusion, the benefits of small to moderate amounts of caffeine do seem to outweigh the risks when it comes to senior health. If your mother or father already drinks coffee, there’s no particular reason to discourage that habit, unless a medical professional advises it.